The latest police action against Hong Kong’s pro-democracy legislators comes straight out of the book of how police states deal with opposition figures who have the temerity to win elections.

Casting aside what had been widely perceived to be the immunity of lawmakers as they go about their business in LegCo, eight democrats were arrested on November 1 and 2 under the very law which is supposed to bestow immunity on their activities – the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance.

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Andrew Wan of Democratic Party feels unwell during chaotic scenes at the House Committee special meeting and leaves the conference room on a stretcher. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The arrest arises from a session of LegCo’s House Committee in May when legislators on both sides of the divide were involved in unruly scenes. However not a single pro-China legislator has been nabbed by the police. On the contrary the government is highly likely to block the private prosecution of Kwok Wai-keung, who is accused of assault by democrat Raymond Chan.

The detention of opposition lawmakers is part of the essential toolkit of authoritarian regimes bent on squeezing democracy out of the system. It is a dismal pattern of behaviour made notorious by the Nazis in Germany, by the infamous Pinochet government in Chile and more recently by the authoritarian regime in Turkey which marches opposition lawmakers off to jail. Now Hong Kong joins this list of infamy.

The increasing hazardousness of an opposition lawmaker’s career is highlighted by collating the data of what has happened since 2016, the last time voters were given a chance to take part in a LegCo election and Democrats won 29 seats in the legislature. Since then, a staggering 86 per cent of them have been either expelled or disqualified from running again in elections or arrested. In some cases they have been subject to multiple arrests on top of actions to remove them from the legislature.

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Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Among those arrested more than once is Lam Cheuk-ting, who was recently charged with rioting during the mob attack on civilians at Yuen Long station last year. Lam had been beaten up by the white-clad thugs who launched the attack while police stood by and yet, presumably to confirm the narrative that there was violence on both sides, was arrested for being a rioter.

The list of those disqualified includes barrister Dennis Kwok, whose main ‘offence’ appears to be chairing sessions of the House Committee when it did not bend to the will of pro-China legislators. A more unlikely person to be classed as unfit to take part in an election would be hard to find.

Rather than list the names of legislators who have been arrested since 2016 or expelled from Legco or disqualified from running for election, it is easier to name the only four democrats who have suffered none of these fates. They are Ip Kin-yuen, Claudia Mo, Charles Mok and James To.

It would perhaps be more judicious to say that these four have not yet been subject to the fate of their colleagues. As the pace of the white terror accelerates, who knows who will be the next victim? Indeed, on October 29 pro-China legislators launched a fresh attempt to bar democrats from the council.

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Photo: May James/HKFP.

Targeting opposition legislators, with the obvious hope of discrediting them, depriving them of the right to stand for election and placing them behind bars is part of a carefully calibrated campaign to delegitimise the opposition.

To hammer home the point that the price of dissidence is high, the administration is now making it clear that having the temerity to take any kind of leading role in the opposition cannot be a cost-free endeavour.

As democratic legislators are bundled into police vans, pro-China lawmakers are free to do what they like. If it involves assaulting democrats, so be it. If it includes making racist and sexist attacks on democrats, so be it. And even after pro-China candidates are defeated in the polls the government rushes forward to offer jobs and positions to make up for their loss.

Cynics will say, what do you expect? But there is such a thing as being too cynical, cynical to the point of ignoring and thus accepting the hammer blows as they rain down on what’s left of Hong Kong’s liberty.

At the very least there is a need to record the dismal litany of ways in which the lingering democracy of Hong Kong is being destroyed. Authoritarian regimes need to be called to account and history needs to know what they did.

HKFP is an impartial platform & does not necessarily share the views of opinion writers or advertisers. HKFP presents a diversity of views & regularly invites figures across the political spectrum to write for us. Press freedom is guaranteed under the Basic Law, security law, Bill of Rights and Chinese constitution. Opinion pieces aim to point out errors or defects in the government, law or policies, or aim to suggest ideas or alterations via legal means without an intention of hatred, discontent or hostility against the authorities or other communities.

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Steve Vines

Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship